AT THE END OF 2020, the former spy George Blake died in Moscow. He had escaped to the Soviet Union from Britain in 1966, after being exposed and jailed for passing British secrets to the Soviets at the height of the Cold War.
From his youth, Blake could not share the values of Britain, but believed fervently in Communism. He believed that his actions were right, and maintained that he was acting on principle. He had said, “To betray, you must first belong. I never belonged.”
Treachery and Loyalty
There have been many traitors in history. The most famous in the Bible was the disciple Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus into the hands of the religious rulers. He seemed to be a true follower of Jesus, and fooled the other disciples—although not Jesus (John 6:64). In fact, even before his betrayal he had been a thief, helping himself to money from the communal purse (John 12:6).
It was Judas who initiated the agreement to betray Jesus to the chief priests for 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14–16). It is difficult to know why he acted in this way, but it seems he was remorseful afterwards because he hanged himself (Matthew 27:5). Tragically, though, he did not seek forgiveness from God.
Both of these men had lived a ‘double life’, fooling many people. In total contrast, Jesus was completely honest and free from any trace of deceit.
Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:21–23).
It is therefore ironic that the priests accused Jesus himself of being disloyal: ‘And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king”’ (Luke 23:2).
In fact, Jesus had not been disloyal to Caesar at all. He encouraged people to pay their taxes, (Matthew 22:21), and he never perverted anyone. He did, however, claim to be the Messiah and he freely admitted to Pilate that he was destined to be a king. But not a king to replace Pilate or Caesar:
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36).
The followers of Jesus do not see themselves as ‘belonging’ totally to their country of birth, or indeed to this world and order of things. They are commanded to obey laws (Titus 3:1–2) except in the scenario where this would conflict with the principles laid down by God (Acts 5:28–29). But their values and loyalty are driven by the fact that they consider themselves as ‘belonging’ to Christ, and so to God (1 Corinthians 3:23). Consequently their ‘citizenship’ is with him now in principle, in order that they can actually be with him when he returns in person to set up God’s kingdom here on earth (Philippians 3:20).
This is not a new way of thinking. Faithful, godly men and women in the Old Testament, thousands of years before Jesus, considered themselves strangers in this world. They knew about God’s promises, tried to serve Him, and aspired to ‘heavenly’ values and hopes:
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth… But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city (Hebrews 11:13–16).
Many of them were ridiculed and ill-treated for their convictions, but they held firm to their faith.
It is not unusual for people to suffer for their principles, but that does not, in itself, make them right. The principles themselves must be ‘right’. God’s standards are not our natural, instinctive standards (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Jesus has told us what he wants of us: He said that ‘You are my friends if you do what I command you’ (John 15:14).
What of Us?
There is no middle ground. We are either Jesus’ friends or not. Surely we want to be loyal friends of Jesus, not traitors. We do not want to let him down. And we need to be genuine: we cannot fool God or Jesus. Let us therefore find out what they ask of us and try to the best of our ability to do it. If we do this, then Jesus will not be ‘ashamed’ of us (Mark 8:38), but pleased to give us a place when he returns to establish God’s Kingdom.